For Li Na, Retirement Has Been a Busy Time
Uncertainty abounds heading into the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the season, which begins next week in Melbourne. But one thing is for sure: There will be a different champion on the women’s side. Li Na, who won the Australian Open last year after being runner-up in 2011 and 2013, retired in September because of persistent knee problems. Li, who became the first Grand Slam singles champion from Asia when she won the French Open in 2011, reached a career high of No. 2 last year.
Before returning to Melbourne for an appearance, Li spoke from Shenzhen in her native China — where she was last week to present the trophy for the Shenzhen Open — about the Australian Open, the outlook for the newest star in Asian tennis and what to expect this season in women’s tennis.
Q. As the Australian Open gets closer, how do you look back at that tournament, given your run to the title last year, but also your previous success there? What was it that made it such a great place for you?
A. I have always loved this tournament. Players call it the Happy Slam, and it is, really, because of the great fans of Australia but also [tournament director] Craig Tiley, and everyone at Tennis Australia is so great and takes such good care of the players. I have always had a special connection with the fans there as well, and they have embraced me and [my husband] Dennis over the years. I feel a special bond with them like they really understand me.
Q. How much of that success in Melbourne do you think came from the tournament’s attachment to the Asia-Pacific region? And how important was it for you to feel like you had a “home” Grand Slam event?
A. It is definitely a little more special. I always felt like there were a lot of Chinese people coming to the Australian Open, so many Chinese flags there. My first Grand Slam semifinal also happened in Australia, and Chinese people got to know me very well from this event a few years ago. So this has always been my favorite Slam, and I am glad I can come back this year and be a part of it again.
Q. How are you adjusting to life post-retirement? How has the business development been going, and have you enjoyed having a more steady home life without all the travel?
A. Actually, I have been traveling quite a bit, but I have been enjoying it. Dennis and I have taken a few vacation trips. I went to New York to help Nike launch a new women’s training line and it was a great event with about 40 different athletes coming together. If I were playing, I wouldn’t have been able to do these things, so it was fun. And going to Shenzhen is always special. It is a great city and the tournament is special to me since I won it and [my management company] IMG puts it on and they have done such a good job here, so I want to support them and bring something extra to the Shenzhen fans.
Q. Do you miss being in professional tennis? Do you think you will keep following the professional game?
A. Right now I am having a great time doing all of the things I didn’t have time for when I was playing, like traveling and spending time with my friends. I don’t feel like I have really been away from it for too much since I have gone to a few tennis tournaments. I still follow what is going on, especially with the Asian players. It has been so exciting to watch Kei Nishikori play so well and carry the torch for Asian tennis.
Q. What did you make of Nishikori’s move into the top five, and do you think he can be the same sort of pioneer on the men’s side in Asian tennis as you were on the women’s side?
A. Kei is a very good player, and I think he will keep improving not just on court but also in his mind. He showed so much last year of his talent but also how mentally strong he is. I think this will be a big year for him and he will keep improving. He is a very hard worker and I am happy to see him do well. Really nice person, too!
Q. How are your plans for an academy going? How close are you to finding a location, and have you decided more about the sort of philosophy you want?
A. It is moving along fine. We have already narrowed down the choices and we are talking to the city that we will choose to build the first Li Na Tennis Academy with. Having said that, we are still receiving new offers from the different city governments these days. I want children to play tennis and receive a good education in the academy. They will have the freedom to choose if they want to turn professional or go academic. They can also just be like other kids: enjoy a normal childhood and the fun that playing sports brings to them.
I also want to help the kids who love to learn tennis but do not have the money. We will work with big companies and set up scholarships for these talented kids and motivate them to strive for the best. It is still in early stages, so lots of work to be done.
Q. What do you expect from this year of women’s tennis? Do you think Serena Williams will stay on top, or will a new face emerge?
A. Serena is always tough. As long as she wants to be at the top, she will be, because she is such a good player with a mind of a champion. I think Maria Sharapova is going to have a great year — she is just so committed to the sport and will always give herself a chance. Petra Kvitova is definitely going to have a big year; she really worked on her fitness and has gotten so much quicker on the court. She is always the player to beat.
答：小威一直很强。只要她愿意，就能一直保持头名，因为她是个很优秀的球员，而且有着势在必得的决心。我觉得玛利亚·莎拉波娃(Maria Sharapova)今年也会很不错——她一直在为这项运动而努力，一直都在为自己争取机会。佩特拉·科维托娃(Petra Kvitova)今年也肯定会有上佳表现，她一直都在健身，而且速度提高了那么多。她一直都是个有实力的选手。
It is nice to see younger girls playing well like Madison Keys and Garbiñe Muguruza; I see both of them as future Grand Slam champions. Madison is so talented and has a big future. There is a whole new generation of young players who are so talented and that is so great for fans to see. Definitely an exciting time for women’s tennis.
看到麦迪逊·凯斯(Madison Keys)和加碧妮·穆古鲁扎(Garbiñe Muguruza)这些年轻姑娘们表现出色也让人欣慰，我觉得她俩都是未来大满贯冠军的有力竞争者。麦迪逊很有天赋，前途无量。新一代年轻选手都很有天赋，球迷们有福了。现在的女子网球真的非常令人兴奋。